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Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. Ryan Hanigan: Backstop throwdown

Boston Red Sox's Jarrod Saltalamacchia watches his grand

Boston Red Sox's Jarrod Saltalamacchia watches his grand slam in front of Yankees catcher Chris Stewart during the seventh inning. (Sept. 13, 2013) Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Reds signed catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year deal Friday, and with Devin Mesoraco likely to be the 2014 starter, that makes Ryan Hanigan reportedly available.

Hanigan will be on the market at the same time that Braves catcher Brian McCann and Red Sox backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia are free agents -- and likely looking for a big pay day.

No one will dispute that Brian McCann is the class of free agent catchers (and if you dispute it, McCann and Chris Johnson may yell at you).

But what about Saltalamacchia? Sure, he hits home runs and just won a World Series with the Red Sox (though he was benched for the final three games). But is he a significantly better option than Hanigan? As a matter of fact -- is he ANY better than Hanigan?

We looked at the combined stats for each player from 2009 on. In 2009, Hanigan (293 plate appearances) and Saltalamacchia (310) began seeing regular playing time:

  Ryan Hanigan Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Batting average .261 .241
On-base percentage .359 .303
Slugging percentage .342 .438
On-base plus slugging percentage .700 .742
Home runs 18 64
Wins Above Replacement (via Baseball-Reference) 6.4 5.7

Saltalamacchia hits for power, but that's about it. His .273 in 2013 was aided by a flukishly high .372 batting average on balls in play. He does not walk and his defense is shaky. Saltalamacchia has a .795 career OPS against righthanders but just a .599 OPS against lefties.

Hanigan is an excellent defender and, though he doesn't hit for power, what does he do? (This is the point in the "Moneyball" movie where Brad Pitt points to Jonah Hill) -- He gets on base. Hanigan is best against lefties (.393 career OBP), but adequate against righties (.349 OBP).

One caveat, of course: "Salty" will turn 29 in May while Hanigan turns 34 in August. On Hanigan's side, however, is that during his seven seasons he's only caught 460 games (394 starts). That's not a significant amount of wear-and-tear on his knees.

Who would be interested in Hanigan? Well, a whole bunch of AL East teams to start. Hanigan is an upgrade over Chris Stewart for the Yankees and Jose Molina for the Rays. The Red Sox could share playing time between Hanigan and David Ross. In the National League, the Mets need a steady hand to train top prospect Travis d'Arnaud. Carlos Ruiz's return to Philadelphia is no sure thing.

One final note: The Reds' new catcher, Pena, doesn't seem like much of an upgrade, if any. He turns 32 in January, so he's not significantly younger than Hanigan. Since 2009, he's hit .262 with a .297 OBP, .365 slugging percentage (.662 OPS), 16 home runs and 1.0 WAR. For a franchise that was supposedly going to start trusting statistical analysis after firing Dusty Baker, it's an odd move to say the least.

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